Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Westminster Confession, Chapter Three

Of God's Eternal Decree
1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.


tds said...

So this posted as a reminder or as a conversation starter?


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I believe it is true and important. Creeds are undervalued in evangelicalism, or at least in most of it.

tds said...

I agree that creeds are important. And if they are undervalued in evangelicalism, you should see how they are taken in mainline-ism, where I currently reside.

Still, not all creeds and confessions are created equal. Among the many things that give me pause in the Westminister Confession, none is greater than the doctrine of election and double predestination suggested in the chapter you quoted. But perhaps the blogosphere isn't the best place for serious theological debate.


Weekend Fisher said...

I think Westminster / TULIP makes missteps on the definition level which forces missteps in the logic. Or to put it in plain language, as Inigo Montoya said, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

But lots of the productive discussions are at the level of definitions.

Take care & God bless

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Tom says: "But perhaps the blogosphere isn't the best place for serious theological debate."

I think that is right. I posted just to stir things up on this grand topic.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I want to study what is called, I believe, "middle knowledge". A proponent of that is a prof at Biola, I believe.

I've bounced from some sort of Calvinism to something more in the tradition of the Church, in my theo thinking.

Thanks for this, Dr. Groothuis.

Anonymous said...

A good book addressing some of the issues in the Calvinism v.s. Arminian debate is, No Place for Sovereignty by Robert McGregor Wright (IVP). I would highly commend it to those wrestling with double predestination, "Arminian passages in Scripture," what is meant by our having "Free Will," the problem of evil and generally the nature of the Sovereignty of God and the responsiblity of humankind.

Tony Byrne said...

Regarding the Biola prof and Molinism, you (Ted) may have William Lane Craig in mind. He has written a couple of books on the topic, particularly his The Only Wise God (Baker) book.

John Frame has this comment in The Doctrine of God:

"Today it is popular among philosophers to use the concept of divine "middle knowledge" (knowledge of what will happen granted any possible set of conditions) in order to reconcile divine sovereignty with indeterminst human freedom. Helm points out quite rightly that if people have such indeterminist freedom, God cannot have "middle knowledge" of what they will do granted previous conditions. For the conditions, on this view, never determine human free actions. Thus indeterminism excludes divine middle knowledge. Helm is absolutely right here, and I can't understand why so many sophisticated philosophers have failed to see this point." (TDOG, page 778)

It's good to study the history and ideas of Molinism, but I think it's a dead end road.

tds said...

ynottony wrote:

"John Frame has this comment in The Doctrine of God:

'Today it is popular among philosophers to use the concept of divine "middle knowledge" (knowledge of what will happen granted any possible set of conditions) in order to reconcile divine sovereignty with indeterminst human freedom. Helm points out quite rightly that if people have such indeterminist freedom, God cannot have "middle knowledge" of what they will do granted previous conditions. For the conditions, on this view, never determine human free actions. Thus indeterminism excludes divine middle knowledge. Helm is absolutely right here, and I can't understand why so many sophisticated philosophers have failed to see this point.' (TDOG, page 778)"

Frame is surely wrong to quickly dismiss as a simple confusion what philosophers like Alvin Plantinga hold to be not only coherent, but true! The way they are defined by Plantinga, "counterfactuals of freedom" are statements about what agents would *freely* do in various situations that God could create them in. According to Plantinga (and others) the truth of these counterfactuals does not depend on causally determining pre-conditions of any kind (and if it did, of course, then the actions described would fail to be free in the indeterministic sense Plantinga intends).

I'm not saying that middle knowledge has no problems. And there might even be a problem where Frame and Helm think there is. But there is nothing straightforwardly incoherent about supposing that there are true counterfactuals of freedom.

Ted M. Gossard said...

yes, ynottony, William Lane Craig.

Somehow human freedom must have its place, an important place, I believe, Scripturally, as given by God to those who are made in his image. It is certainly limited, but it must be real.

That God simply determines in the end what all decide (at least as to their salvation) seems to me to negate any real freedom. Though it is certainly true that with this determinist view of God, people, as the confession says, are still free in their decisions and actions.

I struggle with this in regard to relationship with God. There seems to be a definite give and take in Scripture and in life with reference to relationships between us and God, as well as between us.

That God has to know exactly what I'm going to do, I'm not sure is a given Scripturally. That God knows exactly what he is going to do, and that his purpose will prevail is certainly a given, in Scripture.

There are problems theologically no matter where you turn, surely, and I do think Frame is a great exponent for his position.

BJS said...

No doubt: Blogs aren't a good medium for theological discussion... as this conversation is already proving. (no offense to any involved -- I'm sure motivations are sincere -- but there's just no way to keep a solid thread; there's too much going on).

Instead let me offer a couple of books that I found (and am still finding) quite useful in my never-ending wrestling over this topic.

Peter Van Iwagen. An Essay of Free Will. (that's a book) and also check out his article: "The Metatphysical Mystery of Free Will." Then follow up with Timothy O'Connor's work on agent causation. (also see Kane and Ginet on Free Will).
The aforementioned work cited by Craig is a good primer on Molinism. (I also recommend God & Time edited by Ganssle to get things started).
In my opinion, you first need to make some major decisions on how you are going to define freedom (and why) and then, believe it or not, how you are going to define causation -- THEN get to the debate at hand. At least that's my approach.

And, to make one small comment on this discussion: I agree wholeheartedly (to use a Frankfurt term, which is funny considering this context), that attempts to quickly dismiss middle knowledge theologies as philosophically suspect is brash and unwise. An appeal to authority is not always out of place; not as an argument but perhaps as a way of showing that a position is at least deserving of respect and careful consideration. Hence, tds is right to cite Plantinga as an advocate of middle knowledge along with Craig. I'll also add the following to the list: Peter Van inwagen, Thomas Flint, Robert Kane, Alfred Freddoso, and a couple of my favorites: Stanley Obitts and Jonah Schupbach. I could list many, of course.

The point? Does this mean that middle knowledge is true? Of course not -- these folks could all be wrong. Easily enough. But do you (highly) respect these excellent thinkers? I do, and if you do too then perhaps you should at least give middle knowledge some serious consideration -- rather than a quick dismissal.

Quick dismissals are generally never (well, almost never) a good idea in theological discussions... hence another reason blogs aren't really the right environment for them.

Anita and Bruce Hensley said...

i don't know as i was meditating on this, i was struck by the word "unsearchable" and somehow it gives me comfort to know that whatever explanation i want to give (to myself or others) about the actions of the end, He is far above my ability to rationally comprehend.
i also had a lot more thoughts and though the blogosphere may not be the best place for some things, for me at least, it affords the ability to be exposed to thoughts and snippets of conversation that often enrich my life and may expand or solidify my thinking. thanks for posting this. oh and "hello" to Doug, i went to Russia with you on a team from Phoenix years ago.

MJ said...

Likewise, dismissing God's complete sovereignty (I like to think that's more than a bit redundant) in the realm of salvific freedom is equally treacherous. Praise Him for His Word and the historic confessions that proclain it!

Isaiah says it best in the 55th chapter (ESV):

6"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.


gimmepascal said...

To B.J.: I agree that one should not quickly dismiss molinism as intellectually weak, because it is clear from the names you have mentioned that very intelligent philophers whom we should all respect believe in middle knowledge. But just as impressive a list could be mentioned of those who assent to reformed epistemology (or any of various other ideas), and I think that those of us who disagree with this approach can give adequate reasons for why we do not. In the same way, despite the impressive list of molinists, I myself am not one, and do not feel in the least bit drawn to molinism because of an impressive list its proponents. What should attract us to molinism is its rationality, coherence, pertinence, and agreement with the whole of Scripture.
Another good place to start when struggling with this issue might be the story of Jacob and Esau, and then perhaps Romans 9. Then further theological and philosophical ruminations might ensue, bringing clarification to these particular passages. This is just one of many ways to start dealing with this difficult issue.

Praise God we have guys like B.J. and Jonah out there in the trenches defending the Christian worldview against all comers! Michelle and I will be praying for you fervently!

God bless.

*Note: I carry around with me a pocket-size edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, if that tells you anything about my theological tendencies.

gimmepascal said...

The last posting I had posted strangely. I changed things that did not show up in the comment. I meant that what matters is the truth, rationality, and pertinence of molinism, and its agreement with the whole of Scripture.

I also hope I did not sound too negative. I agree that this sensitive topic is not handled well via the blogosphere.

MJ said...

Wow...nice to know I am not the only 20-something carrying around the WCF! Same one since high school - I find the coffee stains and yellow pages endearing.

Our prayers are with you, Jed and Michelle.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Doesn't the Westminster Confession or Catechims say that all events are decreed by God. That means all rapes, murders, everything.

It depends on what one means by "decreed". But it does seem to clearly imply an active role, not just passive in allowing such.

I know this is getting off the subject here somewhat. Though creeds are certainly undervalued, I thoroughly agree, confessions are not beyond critique and criticism, as well as debate.

I wouldn't put the Westminster Confession, as good as it is, in the same category as the Apostles Creed, or other ancient creeds. Westminster gets into professions that are not essential to the faith.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I must add, so as not to be misread or misunderstood, that I don't believe God decrees all events, at least not as in an active sense. Human responsibility and free will, though inherently limited, is taken seriously by God towards his image bearers.